August 18, 2022

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Iraqi protesters storm the parliament building in Baghdad's Green Zone |  Protest news

Iraqi protesters storm the parliament building in Baghdad’s Green Zone | Protest news

Hundreds of demonstrators, most of them supporters of Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone to protest the nomination of a rival bloc for the premiership.

Hundreds of Iraqi demonstrators, most of them followers of Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, stormed the parliament building in Baghdad to protest the nomination of Iran-backed parties for the position of prime minister.

No lawmakers were present in parliament when protesters breached the capital’s heavily guarded Green Zone, which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, on Wednesday.

Only the security forces were inside the building and appeared to let the protesters in with relative ease.

Demonstrators oppose the candidacy of Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, a former minister and former governor of the province, who was chosen by the pro-Iranian coordination framework for the post of prime minister.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi called on the demonstrators to “immediately withdraw” from the Green Zone.

And he warned in a statement that the security services would work to “protect state institutions and foreign missions and prevent any harm to security and order.”

Al-Sadr’s bloc won 73 seats in Iraq’s October 2021 elections, making it the largest faction in the 329-seat parliament.

But since the vote, talks to form a new government have faltered and Sadr has stepped down from the political process.

Sadr’s supporters demonstrate inside the parliament building in Baghdad [Ahmed Saad/Reuters]

On Wednesday, protesters carried pictures of the Shiite leader.

Riot police earlier used water cannons to repel protesters who tore down the concrete walls. But many broke through the gates of the region. Demonstrators marched down the main street of the Green Zone, and dozens gathered outside the doors of Parliament House.

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Riot police gathered at the gates of the main gates. Demonstrators gathered around two entrances to the Green Zone, some climbed the cement wall and chanted: “Get out the Sudanese!”

Mahmoud Abdel Wahed, Al Jazeera’s correspondent from Baghdad, said the protesters came from “several cities” across Iraq.

“They want to convey their message that they are against corruption, and against corrupt politicians,” he said.

“They say the country has suffered many years of corruption and mismanagement… They say they will continue to protest peacefully here.”

Hours after his followers occupied Parliament, al-Sadr issued a statement on Twitter telling them that their message had arrived, and “Go home safely,” referring to the sit-in not escalating.

Soon after, the demonstrators began to walk out of the parliament building under the supervision of the security forces.

The incident, and Al-Sadr’s later showing to control his followers, carried an implicit warning to the Frame Party of a possible escalation if the government formed with Al-Sudani at its head.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr protest against corruption inside the parliament building in Baghdad
Some protesters carried pictures of the Shiite leader [Ahmed Saad/Reuters]

Al-Sudani was chosen by the leader of State of Law and former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Before Al-Sudani can face Parliament to formally take his seat as prime minister-designate, the parties must first choose a president.

Al-Sadr exited the government formation talks after he was unable to muster a sufficient number of lawmakers to obtain the majority required to elect Iraq’s next president.

By replacing Sadr’s deputies, the framework leader pushed forward to form the next government. Many fear it opens the doors to street protests by al-Sadr’s broad followers and instability.

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In 2016, Sadr’s supporters stormed parliament in a similar fashion. They organized a sit-in and issued demands for political reform after the then prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, sought to replace party ministers with technocrats in an anti-corruption drive.

Yerevan Saeed of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington told Al Jazeera that al-Sadr wanted to show his rivals that he was still “politically connected” during the protests on Wednesday.

“Obviously it is a very dangerous match. It could plunge the country into a civil war between Shiites.

Political turmoil has left Iraq without a budget for 2022, hampering spending on infrastructure projects and much-needed economic reform.

Iraqis say the situation is exacerbating a lack of services and jobs even as Baghdad gets a record oil income due to high crude prices and has not seen major wars since the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group five years ago.